The Imperative of Outreach Ministry
Meredith J. Sprunger
January 25, 1983
The foremost priority of the Urantia movement at this point in time, I believe, is outreach ministry. We have the message which the world most needs to hear and those who are called to be missionaries of the fifth epochal revelation must now seriously ask, "How do we go about this task?"
When the revelators were asked for guidance in answering this question they refused to give specific instructions but advised that we study Jesus' plan of outreach ministry and be guided by his example. Jesus spent approximately a year training his apostles and then began a public ministry. For two years this ministry was largely confined to Palestine and then Jesus instructed his apostles and disciples to proclaim the gospel throughout the entire world. This initiated the greatest missionary movement in the history of our planet.
To date we have not followed the advice of the revelators of The Urantia Book nor the example of Jesus very closely. We have spent more than twenty-five years studying The Urantia Book with some people preparing themselves for the possibility of public ministry in the indefinite future. There is wide-spread confusion about what ministry is appropriate and when, or even if, public ministry should be initiated. During these years the basic attitude of the majority of people within the power structure of Urantia Brotherhood toward initiating public ministry has been "do nothing now." Over the past couple of years there has been a growing realization that we ought to be engaged in outreach ministry.
In order to clarify the ambiguities prevalent in our discussions about outreach ministry, I have suggested five basic levels in which we communicate the gospel message.
First Level -- Living the gospel -- doing good as we pass by in life (The Living Level).
Second Level -- Social service -- amplifying the gospel through systematic social action (The Social Level).
Third Level -- Traditional concepts -- communicating the gospel through traditional Christian frames of reference or other traditional religious teachings (The Traditional Level).
Fourth Level -- Contemporary concepts -- communicating the gospel using all of our contemporary resources, including bootlegging Urantia Book concepts ( The Contemporary Level).
Fifth Level -- Urantia Book concepts -- communicating the gospel through the fifth epochal revelation (The Urantia Book Level).
We should engage in outreach ministry on all five communication levels. Which level we use at any particular time should be determined by the evolutionary readiness status of those with whom we are interacting and the objectives of our specific ministry. It is my judgment that almost all of the people of the United States are evolutionarilly prepared to receive the gospel message on the first three levels of communication but that a minority are not psychologically or socially ready to receive it. I would estimate that social and cultural evolution has conditioned from twenty-five to thirty-five percent of our population to be receptive to the gospel message on the Fourth Level of intellectual-spiritual comprehension; but philosophical materialism and skepticism causes a substantial minority of this group to be psychologically or socially unprepared to accept it.
A large number of those who live at the Contemporary Level of cultural literacy are prepared for the concepts and cosmology of The Urantia Book. I believe that from ten to twenty-five percent of the population of the United States is ready, from an evolutionary point of view, to receive the gospel message on the Fifth Level of conceptual understanding; however, very few of this group are psychologically or socially ready to realistically consider the possibility of "new revelation." Some degree of public exposure or confrontation is necessary before the majority of this segment of society becomes aware of The Urantia Book and is challenged to consider the possibility of revelatory authenticity.
I believe it is time to initiate the beginning phase of public ministry which will bring The Urantia Book to the attention of our society. Those who are called to this outreach ministry would be wise to work through organizations not officially connected with Urantia Brotherhood. Such organizations can be more flexible and innovative than official groups and also will serve as buffers to the more conservative posture of Urantia Brotherhood. During the first few years these outreach activities should be concentrated in local communities. The methodologies we use in our ministry should be devised by the highest wisdom we possess and be altered by the feed-back of experience. We should also feel comfortable with the channels of communication we use and strive for excellence in their execution.
Our public ministry should be geared to the nature of our contemporary culture. We are shifting from an industrial society to an information society. Living in the world's leading provider of information, we have many tools at our disposal. High technology is emancipating us from dependency on neighbors and work groups and people are hungry for the human touch. Small in-groups become increasingly important to our identities and well-being.
The transition from national economies to a world economy is building the foundations for world-wide social and religious fellowship. The failure of short term planning in our economic, social, and moral adjustments points to the necessity of long range planning. We have many dinosaurs not only in our traditional institutions but in the Urantia movement as well. The decentralization trend in Western Civilization is lessening the importance of hierarchies and power structures and increasing the significance of local communities and networks. Society will be rebuilt from the bottom up. We must rely less on central-institutional help and guidance and develop more local direction and individual initiative. The small units of society which will rebuild our culture are close-knit, dedicated, participatory groups governed by a central purpose. The old either-or society (religious-secular, educated-uneducated, proper-improper, moral-immoral) is passing and cultural diversity is taking its place. In work, food, life style, cable TV, and religion there are multiple choice options being utilized in our society.
We are living between the times. In this social and cultural ambiguity we need the innovative ability to venture boldly into the future. We are living in one of the few periods of history where social and religious values are in flux. Ours is a day in which those with vision, courage, initiative, and high spiritual goals will have extraordinary leverage and influence in shaping the future. In the context of such a changing world, we need to plan and execute our public ministry as herald., of the fifth epochal revelation.
How we conduct our outreach ministry is much more important than when or where we introduce people to The Urantia Book. The inevitable indifference and social opposition must be taken in stride with love, intellectual candor, and good humor. Since we are not trying to organize a church, start a new religion, raise money, or coerce people to do anything, our public ministry is relatively benign. Jesus assures us, "my yoke is easy and my burden is light." This mission bears the simplicity of Philip's invitation, "Come and see." We are merely introducing people, to a book and encouraging them to read it. Their response is in the hands of the Spirit. If the message of The Urantia Book does not sell itself, we should cheerfully allow the reader to his own interpretations and evaluation. If this new vision of spiritual reality does not inspire people, our arguments are not likely to do so.
Although the essence of our outreach ministry is simplicity itself, it is important and much of the hope of the world rest upon it. Therefore, I would urge you to adopt the following seven principles of ministry in your outreach work.
1. Use wisdom and balance in all of your service. Avoid extremes, exhibitionism, oversell, and the spectacular. Learn to distinguish between artistic good taste and the theatrical. Remember that personal contact is more effective than impersonal mass communication. Understand the wisdom and effectiveness of small groups. These groups form coalitions and networks more open and dynamic than hierarchical and self-serving cults. Such a network is many times greater than the sum of its parts It has multiple leadership, pluralistic policies, and its center is everywhere. Start where people are, not where you are. Communicate in their frames of reference and anticipate their natural reactions. Combine the most expert knowledge with the highest values in all of your ministry. Master your mind through the power of the spirit. Be strong in the spirit; know that in liaison with God nothing can defeat the spiritual purposes of your life. Be fearless but act with discretion.
2. Let love create the atmosphere of all of your interpersonal relationships. Remember that you cannot communicate effectively with others unless you positively and unconditionally accept them with all of their imperfections. Strive to prevent your own biases and limitations from interfering or distorting your service to them support, stimulate, and help people; do not seek to coerce them. See all of your fellows as persons of worth and strive to build their self-confidence and self-respect. Be natural and genuine and enjoy their company.
Serve out of love, a thankful heart, and the joy of the act itself. Ministry is an intrinsic activity of the creative mind and the loving soul. Extrinsic motivation in service compromises its spiritual value. Serving God even for good extrinsic purposes such as building your study group, society, or church, or even to bring about a spiritual renaissance limits its spiritual value and personal satisfaction. Minister out of the intrinsic motivation of love, thankfulness, and joy; the extrinsic repercussions or results will largely take care of themselves. Serve with the openness of creative love; but do not try to manipulate people.
3. Temper your personal convictions with philosophic objectivity. Always be honest and open. Cultivate freedom of opinion and respect the right of others to disagree with your most deeply held convictions. Honor each person's God-given right to self-determination. Try to establish common ground but do not contend with people. Let your enthusiasm for truth animate your discussions but never knowingly put people down or offend.
4. Recognize that evolution is the underlying principle of life. Do not expect immediate results. All growth is unconscious and has mustard seed beginnings. The roots of a new tree of life take decades to penetrate the rocks of tradition on which it is planted. Be patient but do not become the victim of a fearful "do-nothing" psychology and bury your talents and treasure in stagnation or cult absurdities. Be concerned about ministering effectively but relatively unconcerned about results. Realize that your ministry must be planned and conducted in the context of the law of readiness. Always minister at the point of evolutionary readiness but do not confuse this basic preparation for the surface conditions of psychological and social readiness. All who have prophetic vision know that evolution, the plow of history, eventually breaks the crust of individual resistance and moves the clods of social stagnation. Be loyal and persistent in your service without needing to see results or to be honored by success. It is our privilege and responsibility to minister; the results are in the hands of God the Supreme. In all things cultivate in yourself the mind and attitude of the Supreme. The vicissitudes of time do not change the goals of eternity.
5. Be actively involved in routine, commonplace experiences. Grow, bloom, and bear fruit in the soil where you are planted. If possible, keep your old social and religious ties strong and healthy. Share at the level of spiritual acceptance. When you are a tadpole don't pretend to be a trout or an eagle. Only dedicated and creative tadpoling will bring you inner satisfaction and a sense of fulfillment. These mundane activities and identifications will bring a sense of proportion, genuineness, and integrity to your ministry. Forget the failures of the past and do not allow yourself to be preoccupied anticipating the future. Live in the present in constant fellowship with the Father and absorbed in the existential moment of experience.
6. Cultivate an active sense of humor. Humor helps us maintain a proper sense of perspective. You can carry useful man-sized or woman-sized loads when you get the world off your shoulders. Do not take yourself too seriously even though you are participating in important work. Be unconcerned about prestige and status. Strive to avoid self-contemplation and cultivate self-forgetfulness. Finite personalities can become tragic figures when they lose their sense of perspective and fail to appreciate the comedy of life. We need to learn to laugh at ourselves and the frustrating, ridiculous, and absurd situations we encounter. A light-hearted spirit can be a great asset in carrying the sometimes heavy burdens of ministry.
7. Above all, live with joy in your heart and find joy in your ministry. You belong to the Father's kingdom which has an eternal future of unimaginable adventure and reward. Nothing can long prevent the fulfillment of your most ardent spiritual hopes and fondest dreams. All who experience this faith in an eternal destiny live with irrepressible-joy even in the midst of material hardship, social conflict, and seeming personal defeat. As you free yourself from the slavery of the lure of things, the adoration or criticism of people, and the importance or preoccupation with self, you will experience the liberating joys of service. You will also discover that in doing so you are free from the egocentric social pressure of being successful and establishing or maintaining a reputation. When our will is in harmony with the Universal Father, the joy of service also brings a deep inner peace. When you no longer experience this peace of mind and joy in your ministry, find another channel of service which does fill your heart with joy because you feel that you are where you belong, where your Heavenly Father wishes you to serve.
I should like to close with what I consider the most important thing I have to share with you. While outreach ministry is the most important imperative in the Urantia movement, if you are not called to this ministry, or fail to respond to the Spirit's leading, others will hear this call and carry the good news of The Urantia Book to the farthest corners of the earth. But there is another call which no one can respond to except yourself. This is the Father's loving appeal that you dedicate yourself to your own spiritual growth.
Nothing in this world is more important in your life than your active co-operation in achieving the Spirit's mastery of your mind and body, your attitudes and appetites, your emotions and actions. This is not accomplished by simply willing it; it demands active participation. The initial stages of growth usually require enduring suffering, transcending egocentric pride, or even experiencing social humiliation. The rewards and joys of a Spirit-controlled mind and a Spirit-mastered body, however, far outweigh the birth pangs endured in evolving the soul. The enlarged freedom and deeper inner peace of your liberated and growing soul bring the greatest joy and sense of fulfillment which sons and daughters of God can experience in this life. Not only have you actualized your authentic self, but you have a quality of being which is more real and can accomplish greater service for your fellowmen and the Father's kingdom. It is my prayer that each of us may grow in this life of the Spirit. For the life of the Spirit is the well-spring and creative source of outreach ministry.
A Service of
The Urantia Book Fellowship